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Judge to rule soon on Nevada gun background check law

After more than two hours of legal arguments Friday in a small Las Vegas courtroom, the status of a private gun sale background check approved by Nevada voters in November 2016 remains unclear.

Elaine Sanchez, former board member of Nevadans for Background Checks, joined others at a rally shortly before the hearing.

“Nevadans voted for it. Nevadans spoke on the matter. But here we are, 15 months later, on the steps of the courthouse, suing our elected officials because they did not follow the will of the people,” Sanchez said outside the Regional Justice Center. “Enough is enough.”

District Judge Joe Hardy is expected to issue a ruling in the next two weeks.

The case landed in Hardy’s courtroom in October, when — just a few days after the Las Vegas mass shooting — three Nevada residents sued Gov. Brian Sandoval and Attorney General Adam Laxalt, accusing them of failing to implement the law. The residents had been preparing to sue before the shooting.

State attorneys argued that the law requiring background checks on private gun sales has not been implemented because, based on the ballot language, the state is unable to perform the checks, and the FBI has refused to conduct them.

The Nevadans suing the governor believe Sandoval has not done as much as possible to implement the law.

Mark Ferrario, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said that in evidence provided to him through the course of litigation, he only saw one instance in which Sandoval communicated with the FBI about the measure, and the conversation happened on the phone, so there is no record of it.

“They haven’t put forth any evidence to show the governor met the very basic obligations that he told the people of the state of Nevada he would meet,” Ferrario said. “He’s done nothing other than ask questions of the attorney general.”

Just days after the Oct. 1 shooting, Laxalt said in a legal opinion that Sandoval had the authority to ask the FBI again to perform the checks. Ferrario interpreted that statement as a green light for the FBI to conduct the checks, as long as Sandoval makes the request.

“The governor can’t just do nothing, and he can’t refrain from doing things because he disagrees with the law that was passed,” Ferrario said. “That’s what we think is going on here.”

Lawrence VanDyke, the state solicitor general, countered that the FBI “has repeatedly said it won’t run the checks. And it’s given reason. And it disagrees with plaintiffs’ argument.”

VanDyke later added, “If plaintiffs really believe their new argument, that the FBI has to run these checks, then go sue the FBI.”

Ferrario argued that the point of the current lawsuit was to ensure that the governor exhausts his options.

“If the FBI does resist, that’s a question for another day,” Ferrario said.

Contact Rachel Crosby at rcrosby@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-8301. Follow @rachelacrosby on Twitter.

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